Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"You should stop losing weight"

In my practice I get to see a great many people lose a great deal of weight and I've noticed two trends.

Firstly it's usually somewhere between a 15 and 20 pound weight loss when folks start noticing, but it's the second trend I want to talk about, the, "You should stop losing weight" trend whereby if you lose enough weight, folks will start telling you to stop.

In my experience it happens at somewhere around the 15-20% mark (i.e. a 30-40lb weight loss if your starting weight is 200lbs). Now there is a difference in terms of how starting weight affects this phenomenon and the higher the starting weight, the less likely this phenomenon will occur but as an anecdotal rule, if your starting weight is less than 250lbs and you lose more than 20% of your starting weight, somebody will tell you to stop. They'll often even do so despite the fact that you may still want to lose more weight and may still have a significant amount of medical risk associated with your weight.

Sometimes they'll even come right out and say you look bad.

I've got two theories about this. There's the less likely theory - jealousy, but honestly I don't believe that plays a big role for most folks. I think the more likely theory is the fact that consciously or perhaps unconsciously as a function of evolutionary biology, we interpret weight loss as reflective of illness.

The fact is that many major and sometime fatal illnesses have a wasting away component to them and I wonder if we as a species have it hardwired in us to recognize weight loss as a sign of illness. Many of us too have personally watched friends and relatives waste away and seeing a friend or a relative lose weight may trigger memories and emotions that less than pleasant.

For all those obesity researchers who may be reading my blog, I think this phenomenon would be a fascinating study and it's certainly not one I've read about. There'd be two ways to study it. One with a prospective study whereby the folks losing weight keep track of when they first run into someone whose concerned about their weight loss or perhaps an easier study using photographs of folks as they lose weight with captive audiences and well designed questions.

Anybody out there experience this phenomenon?